Health Minister Greg Hunt has dismissed safety concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine following calls from a backbench colleague to suspend Australia’s rollout.
Nationals senator Matt Canavan wants Australia to follow the lead of major European nations while authorities investigate potential links between the vaccine and blood clots.
“I don’t see how we could continue when basically the whole of Europe is worried about this vaccine,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
Senator Canavan acknowledged the United Kingdom and Sweden were pressing ahead with their rollouts, but questioned whether it was the best approach in Australia.
“I don’t think all the capitals of Europe have been overtaken by anti-vaccine zealots,” he said.
“There’s obviously legitimate concerns here.”
The health minister said European authorities had not found any link between the vaccine and blood clots.
“There’s no evidence in Europe or Australia of causation or correlation,” Mr Hunt told colleagues in Canberra.
Mr Hunt swatted away suggestions of temporarily pausing the rollout while the safety concerns were explored.
He assured colleagues Australia’s medical regulator and chief officers were available to answer any of their concerns.
Australia has observer status in Europe’s equivalent to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, giving officials front row seats to the continent’s vaccine rollout.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed there were no plans to suspend Australia’s rollout, insisting it was safe.
“Both the European equivalent of our TGA as well as the World Health Organisation have said that the AstraZeneca is effective,” he told ABC radio.
Deputy Prime Minster Michael McCormack and Regional Health Minister Mark Coulton rebuked their Nationals colleague for demanding a suspension.
Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek also shot down his calls.
“I wouldn’t be taking health advice from Matt Canavan,” she told reporters.
“It’s highly irresponsible to have people just freelancing on this stuff.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told colleagues Senator Canavan had inflicted damage on public confidence in the vaccine rollout.
The WHO is urging countries not to panic as Europe’s biggest nations suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The jab has been widely used in the UK with no major issues.
But after some patients developed blood clots in Europe, countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway suspended the vaccine’s rollout.
Germany, France and Italy have also stopped using the vaccine.
The WHO is encouraging countries to continue administering the jab.
Australia is rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine and local production is ramping up, with more than 50 million doses to be produced.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly insists the vaccine chosen as Australia’s mainstay is safe and effective.
He said Australia had strong and clear protocols around reporting adverse reactions.
WHO spokeswoman Dr Margaret Harris said AstraZeneca findings would be released soon, but a causal relationship to blood clots had not been shown.
“The panel had taken the position that the jab should continue to be administered, while an investigation of cases of these thrombo-embolic events is ongoing,” she said.